Sunday, February 27, 2011

Brazilian documentary up for an Academy Award

Waste Land - this documentary has been a long time in the making.  I have read a lot about it's creator and have seen many clips produced along the way.  Now it is up for an Academy Award.

A recent novela on national television ripped off the idea of painting portraits of people using recycled objects from the trash.

I'm not sure how much will come from this documentary to actually help those people who scratch a living out of the trash they collect and recycle, but it is always worthwhile, I think, to bring such realities into the light.

It would be nice to get a Brazilian romantic comedy up for an Academy Award for a change.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Have you been to Bahia?

I was searching for a full length copy of Disney's The Three Caballeros and found this curious but cute clip.  The very end seems to be a lead in to the other film.

[Leave it to Disney to portray Bahia/Salvador as a place sans Brazilians of African decent.]

Have You Been to Bahia? from Guillaume on Vimeo.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Mastering Havaianas

When I was a boy I wore flip flops pretty much only when taking a shower at summer camp or in family campground public showers.  They were not regular footwear.

Since moving to Brazil I have worn Havaianas (flip flops) pretty much 80% of the time.  To the beach, to the grocery store, to the dentist, to the park, to the shopping mall, to the cardiologist, to the bakery – you get the idea.

At first my toes were sore.  Not being a flip flop guy, I was forever afraid they would separate from my feet, so I would scrunch my toes to try and hold on to the flimsy footwear.  

As for the locals – it is amazing to watch people in flip flops run, scramble up a hillside, work a construction site, navigate the rocky shore at the beach, you name it.

Nowadays I’ve gotten much better – much more unconscious – when wearing my Havaianas.  My toes are no longer scrunching to hold on to our connection.

I take it as a sign of assimilation.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Romeo and Juliette come to visit

My friend Amanda recently visited her mother and father on their farm in the country.  Knowing that I am all about everything old school and natural, especially when it comes to cooking, Amanda told me about her mother’s life-long routine of making cheese, sausage, bread, sweets, and everything else you might imagine on a rural Brazilian farm.

Most of the ingredients come from the plants and livestock on the farm and the foods are made over a wood burning stove in an outdoor kitchen.

Sign me up for that noise.

Yesterday, Amanda’s ex- pulled up on his bike with a big basket tied to the handlebars.  In the basket was a beautiful wheel of fresh cheese and a mouth-watering disk of newly minted goiabada (firm, sweet guava jelly).  Thank you Donna Amanda’s mom!

The cheese is so soft and smooth, yet firm, with a clean cow’s milk cheese flavor.  Like butta!  The goiabada is perfectly flavored without that gratuitous sugar after taste.  Sixty five years on a farm has a way of honing your skills.  Perfect!

We instantly whacked off a big chunk of each and walked them over to share with Zozó.

You see – these two specific items are a matched pair in the parlance of Brazilian desserts: Romeo and Juliette.  Every comida Minas restaurant will feature these items next to each other at the dessert buffet (or already plated together).  It is the simple, yet perfectly paired, dessert that defines country living.

But Luiz and I are just two guys, plus Zozó makes three.  The size of the cheese wheel and the goiabada disk are a bit overwhelming.

I’m thinking there is a Romeo and Juliette cheesecake for a party in our future.  Anybody want guests?

Back to school daze

These days I’m packing a daily lunchbox of snacks for my schoolboy. He looks so cute in his government-issue student Tshirt. And I grin from ear to ear seeing him leave the apartment carrying his backpack filled with school supplies.

Luiz is back in school. The good news is that he’s having a lot of fun and that he will emerge the other end as a certified Tour Guide in the state of Rio de Janeiro. His classes include a broad range of topics from how to treat senior tourists, to learning about the history of dozens of cities, to how to give bus boarding instructions in English, Spanish, French and Portuguese.

The bad news (sorta, it was his first choice) is that the school runs three sessions a day: morning classes, afternoon classes and evening classes and Luiz is attending the morning classes. Monday through Thursday he leaves the apartment at 6:00 a.m. to get to school by 7:00 a.m. Classes run until 12:20 p.m. after which he is provided with a public school free lunch (we’re talking basic beans, rice and pasta with a slice of fruit for dessert). So he gets home by about 2:00 or 2:30 p.m. I have become a lonely stay at home by myself husband.

Luiz is a natural. He loves people and people love him. He can talk about just about anything. What he doesn’t know for sure he will make up without skipping a beat. It’s all about the charm.

As Rio and Brazil gear up for the increase in tourism driven by the upcoming World Cup and Olympic games, demand for official tour guides trained by the state tourism board is great. Luiz is riding that wave.

Part of his training includes many field trips to local points of interest as well as to a few neighboring cities and towns. Luiz is very excited about this new venture.

But from now until early July I’ll be sitting at home working up lesson plans in an empty apartment. On the bright side, I’ll get to set the dinner menu more often.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Catch Ivete Sangalo live today on YouTube

Today at 18:30 Brasília time, get in the mood for Carnaval by tuning in to a live transmission of the Carnival rehearsal of Ivete Sangalo, one of the most popular singers in the Salvador festival. Check it out here

Here Ivete makes her invitation.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Driving each other crazy

Some things are just cultural.  They don’t translate.  For example:

Try putting a slice of avocado on your Brazilian friend’s hamburger.
Or – try putting ketchup on your American friend’s pizza.

Try giving your female Brazilian friend a pair of panties bought at Costco.
Or – try getting your female American friend to wear Brazilian-style women’s panties.

Try getting your Brazilian friend to show up at your party on time.
Or – try getting your American friend to relax while waiting for Brazilian guests to arrive.

Try convincing your male Brazilian friend to not pee on the street (when he feels the need to).
Or – try convincing your male American friend that it is OK to pee wherever he likes (at least your cultured male friend!)

Try feeding roasted vegetables or a cold pasta salad to your Brazilian friends.
Or – try feeding a delicious frango ao moliho pardo to your American friends (when they understand what it is).

Try getting your American friend to sing out loud at a friends’ gathering.
Or – try getting your Brazilian friend to NOT sing out loud at a friends’ gathering.

Try getting your American friend to prioritize family over friends.
Or – try getting your Brazilian friend to prioritize friends over family.

Try getting your American friend to drink sweet avocado juice for breakfast.
Or – try getting your Brazilian friend to eat a sausage, bacon, ham omelet with hash browns and toast for breakfast.

Try to get your Brazilian driver friend to wait for a pedestrian to cross the street.
Or- try to get your friend from Berkeley to even contemplate cutting off a pedestrian.

Can you think of something that drives you and your Brazilian friends crazy?

Battle of the bugs

We need a refrigerated pantry.  I’ve been getting schooled about how to live in this heat and environment - schooled by tiny bugs.  They are letting me know that my flour, corn meal, farofa, pasta, spices, dried beans and rice need to be kept in the refrigerator.

Our pantry shelves are lined with jars full of dried goods and Ziploc bags containing opened bags of pasta, etc.  I thought we had been doing a good job keeping things fresh and sealed away from unwanted intruders.

Invariably I wind up tossing out the last of the rice, or the beans, or the pasta.  Bugs.

Unsolicited advice to folks moving to Brazil: buy the BIGGEST refrigerator you can fit in your kitchen.  You will need it to keep your spices fresh and to keep the bugs out of your dried goods.

Someone should invent a refrigerated spice rack.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Gay freedoms - and violence

Yesterday, when Luiz and I walked home from the Ivete Sangalo concert we were feeling great.  We held hands as we walked the 8 blocks home (although we were constantly looking over our shoulder for a sour reaction from others on the street).  On one or two occasions we shared a quick kiss.

To our genuine surprise, there was no push back from the others on the street.  It made me feel really good about our neighborhood.  We were just being as all the other couples on the street were being. (Except they felt free to kiss a lot more.)

But then there is this recent incident in Lima, Peru.  Courageous lesbian, gay and trans citizens were determined to take a stand by holding a “kisses against homophobia” event.  Police officers hid their name badges and beat demonstrators.

Peruvian citizens of all descriptions are protected by law to freely assemble and voice their grievances.  But then – lesbian, gay and trans people never really get the backing of their government/laws.

Those in the video are brave people, indeed.

Ivete Sangalo in concert

Yesterday was a scorching day in the sun dancing to music at a Mistura Brasileira concert in the park, featuring Ivete Sangalo.

The concert was a rare chance to see Ivete Sangalo in Niterói, and even better that it was in a relatively small venue, the Rio Cricket club (so the space is just a bit larger than a cricket pitch).

The gate opened at 2:00, so naturally we arrived just after 4:30 p.m.  Perfect timing.  The first of two warm up bands had just begun and the sun was just beginning to slope back down out of the sky. 

There was a vibrant street party going on outside the club with police trying to get folks to allow at least one lane of traffic to flow.  These scenes are mind blowing to the forever restricted and rules-following Americans.  Everyone has a beer or a cocktail in their hand.  Young men are holding liters of tequila or scotch overhead and hawking shots.  Circles of friends are pouring Red Bull and vodka for themselves, priming the pump before entering the field for the show.

It was blisteringly hot.  Once inside everyone was cramped under whatever shade they could find along the perimeter of the field.  The bands were terrific.

Occasionally the event organizers would cool the crowd down by shooting a fire hose fountain of water into the air.  People would run to stand under the refreshing “rain” to take the heat down a notch.  Oh the eye candy.

In true Brazilian style, beers were bought 10 at a time for your group.  The vendors filled a heavy plastic bag with 10 cans and a lot of crushed ice.  Instant cooler.  And you got a volume discount.

So we danced, and chatted, drank beer, met up with more friends and continued to dance waiting for Ivete.

Eventually she made her grand entrance and the place exploded.  True to her never-to-disappoint style of live performance, the energy started out at a “10” and never let up.  One song ran into the next, her 8 sidekick dancers never stopped, and she held the crowd in the palm of her hand for well over an hour.

It seemed everyone present knew every word to all her songs and sang along.  The crowd never stopped jumping up and down.

It was Brazil at its best for me.  I love being in that energy (even if I do not jump up and down for 90 minutes).  I adore music made buy a couple guitars, a saxophone and 24 drums and other percussion instruments.  And I really enjoy being in a crowd of all ages having fun together.

There was one reminder of how differently things are done here in terms of garbage.  There were no garbage cans, anywhere.  Tens of thousands of people were drinking from beer cans and using plastic cups (not to mention water bottles and soda cans) creating a mountain of trash.  The solution?  There was a small army of men and women in bright yellow shirts with stiff brooms and garbage bags wandering the site sweeping up after everyone.  Huh?  We were supposed to throw our trash on the ground because people had been hired to then pick it up.  Part of Brazil’s full employment program, I guess.  But I can’t help but believe that if there were large garbage cans set out they would be used properly.  Oh well.

Side note: Rachel recently did a post about the length of people's names here in Brazil. For the record, Ivete's full name is Ivete Maria Dias de Sangalo Nascimento.

Anyway – it was a blast.  Here is a clip of Ivete Sangalo to share the love.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Attending Rio's samba schools' rehearsals

This final month before Carnaval is packed with Samba Schools meeting to rehearse in their own quadra (huge community building), in the streets, or even in the Sambadromo.  These rehearsals are a blast.  The energy is electric and the pounding percussion music along with the singing of the School’s samba works its way into your bones until there is no resisting the urge to dance.

When people ask me about planning their trip to Rio for Carnaval I always suggest they come a couple of weeks prior to carnival so they can take advantage of these high energy nighttime parties.

Last night Luiz went to Beija-Flor’s rehearsal with some friends.  At about 4:00 a.m. I heard him getting home, showering and then coming to bed.  These rehearsals are not for the faint of heart.

I’ve listed here the Schools, their address, rehearsal night(s), what their School colors are, what the entrance fee is to get in to the rehearsal (if I could find it), as well as their website for more information.

If you go, be sure to wear clothing that features the School’s colors.  Google Maps where you are going and understand your transportation approach.  Many of the schools list bus lines that access their quadras on their websites.  In many cases you do not want to be a gringo wandering the streets in a strange neighborhood at 3:00 in the morning.

Check out a few different Schools.  The energy varies and the samba is certainly different.  My favorite part is often the street party out front of the quadra, which will continue until the sun comes up.

Note: if the School lists two nights of rehearsals and one is Saturday, keep in mind that the Saturday rehearsal may very well be more of a fundraising and energy boosting party than a technical rehearsal.  Some people prefer the party night, others the rehearsal night.


Pracinha Wallace Paes Leme 1025 - Nilópolis
Rehearsal night: Thursdays 21:00
Colors: blue and white
Entrance fee: R$10

Colégio São José, Av. Presidente Kennedy - Duque de Caxias
Rehearsal night: Fridays 22:00
Colors: red, green and white
Entrance fee:

Rua Professor Lacê 235 – Ramos
Rehearsal night: Sundays 20:00
Colors: green, white and gold
Entrance fee:

Rua Visconde de Niterói 1072 - Mangueira
Rehearsal night: Saturdays 22:00
Colors: green and pink
Entrance fee:

Rua Coronel Tamarindo 38 - Padre Miguel
Rehearsal night: Saturdays 22:00
Colors: green and white
Entrance fee:

Rua Clara Nunes 81 – Madureira
Wednesdays 20:00
Rehearsal night: Fridays 22:00
Colors: blue and white
Entrance fee:

Rua Lúcio Tomé Feteira 290, Vila Lage - São Gonçalo
Samba nights: Wednesdays 20:00
Colors: red and white
Entrance fee:

Rua Silva Teles 104 - Tijuca
Rehearsal night: Saturdays 22:00
Colors: red and white
Entrance fee: R$50

Av. Presidente Vargas, 3102 - Centro
Rehearsal nights: Tuesdays 20:00, Saturdays 22:00
Colors: yellow and black
Entrance fee:

Estrada do Galeão,322 - Ilha do Governador
Samba nights: Tuesdays 20:00, Saturdays 22:00
Colors: blue, red and white
Entrance fee:

Clube dos Portuários, Av. Francisco Bicalho 47 – São Cristóvão
Rehearsal nights: Fridays and Saturdays 20:00
Colors: yellow and blue
Entrance fee: R$30

Av. 28 de Setembro 382 - Vila Isabel
Rehearsal nights: Tuesdays 20:00, Saturdays 22:00
Colors: blue and white
Entrance fee: R$10

Thursday, February 10, 2011

What the United States can learn from Brazil

Don’t get me wrong.  There is WAY MORE that the United States can learn from humble Brazil than what I’m about to note.  But let’s just name a couple things.

According to the Brazilian Health Ministry, an estimated 33 million people, or 17 percent of Brazil's population suffer from hypertension and some 7.5 million suffer from diabetes.

If you were a concerned politician and you knew that about 34% of the deaths in your country each year were caused by hypertension- and diabetes-related complications, would you pick your nose up out of the trough long enough to consider a remedy?

Lucky for us we have a socialist-minded president who gets it that helping people AVOID these conditions will save lives and save a gazillion in health care expenses.

As such, Brazil’s new president Dilma announced recently that the government will now provide free hypertension and diabetes medication though the “Popular Pharmacy” program.

The diabetes medication was already available at nearly free prices, but this extends the wellness program even further.

As a further note (and one I extend to my policy maker friends in the US) I will mention that in the case of poor people with cancer, the government also offers a helping hand.

My mother in law is a breast cancer survivor.  When she completed her treatment she was placed on a drug called Tamoxifen, which is designed to prevent the recurrence of breast cancer.  It is state of the art treatment, and it is expensive.  She must take this drug for five years.

Well, my mother in law could not afford the R$500+ needed per month to buy this drug, so she went to the city government and said: “Look, I’m a poor old woman.  I’m retired.  How am I going to afford this drug?  Give me a break.”  And guess what?  The government said “OK, we understand.  We will provide the drug to you for free.”

And so my mother in law receives the drug at no cost to her and continues to live a robust life – and it is worth noting that she did not have to sell her house and all her family’s assets in the process.

Take a note United States.  If a poor country like Brazil can do this for its people, so can you.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Horrific fire at Samba City in Rio

A tragedy of a different sort has befallen Rio.  It does not, to be sure, compare in terms of lives and livelihoods lost to the ongoing struggles brought on by flooding in nearby mountain towns.  There families continue to search for lost relatives and remain camped out in school gymnasiums awaiting what might come next.  At last count the dead have surpassed 850 and there are still some 400+ people missing.  It was proclaimed Brazil’s worst natural disaster several hundred fatalities ago…

But now in Rio, just one month before the annual Carnaval festival that brings a bit of joy and levity into people’s otherwise very difficult lives, there has been a tragic fire at the Samba City complex were Schools design and build their huge floats and create thousands of elaborate costumes.

What a horror show.  Early Monday morning fire broke out in one of the barracãos (warehouse work spaces) and quickly grew to engulf the entire three story space, while spreading into the two neighboring spaces as well.

See more photos here.

The plastic, foam, polyester, feathers, fiberglass, wood and other flammable materials used to create the floats and costumes made the fire fierce and fast-growing.

At escola Grande Rio nearly everything was lost: floats, costumes, design molds, computers, cell phones, cash reserves – more than R$7 million in losses.  Thankfully the bateria’s (percussion band’s) instruments were off site at the time and so have been spared.

It may be “just a parade” to some, but creating a winning Carnaval presentation is big business, and so much of the effort resonates in people’s hearts throughout the year.  It is a full time job for some, and hundreds of workers are employed for a good six months to make it a reality.

Just as some Brazilians identify so strongly with their beloved futebol teams, many in Rio’s poorer neighborhoods invest their hearts in their School of Samba.  This loss has cut people to the bone.

Organizers and the City’s leadership have quickly moved to guarantee that all is done to preserve and support everything possible to ensure a celebratory Carnaval event.  Leaders from the Schools affected have proclaimed proudly that, while works of art that have been up to 8 months in the making are now gone, the spirit of Carnaval can not be taken from the members of their communities

The show will go on.  It is sure to be an emotional event.

[Two photos taken from here.]

Saturday, February 5, 2011

No wonder Americans (USA) are so fat

It's so-called Super Bowl Sunday weekend back in the States.  Time for a giant pan of aunt Tracy's famous 7 layer taco dip (with extra sour cream).  Or your brother-in-law Paul's famous double bacon and cheese sliders (with extra mayonnaise mixed right in the meat!)  Or better yet: food blogger Amanda's double stuff Oreos baked inside chocolate chip cookies (no kidding).

I was doing some TasteSpotting this morning (nibbling on real Triscuits, compliments a care package from Rachel -- shout out!)  And what to my wondering eyes should appear but a chocolate, sugar, fat bomb disguised as a cookie.

In all honesty, I could see myself eating one of these - but just one, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  Count me among the fat Americans, unfortunately.

It's important to remember that there are very few Big and Tall clothing stores here in Brazil.  Style and selection are narrow.  Better that I stick to the banana mango sorbet.

[Photos and the recipe are from here. No offense intended Amanda.]

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Technology and Brazilian living

Not to be critical, but Luiz is a bit of a Luddite when it comes to the computer.  I opened an email account for him 12 years ago and he still needs me to navigate to his account for him when he wants to check his email.  I am the one who monitors the email at his business website.  It’s kinda cute, except when it is annoying.

But I am no one to talk.  I have no idea how to transfer a photo from my phone to my email.  I only just this year texted for the first time.  I’m still figuring out Twitter.  And I have a deep mistrust for info-grabbing Facebook and Orkut.

I once bought a new computer simply because I could not get the ghost of AOL out of all of the margins of my previous computer.

In our fantasy-land mind Luiz and I imagined that a move to Brazil would be a move back in time to a simpler way of life.  No handheld computing devices, no freaky calm lady giving you driving directions from the dashboard of your car, no 24/7/365 computer addiction.

Wrong!  Well, maybe Luiz has been able to carve out this cocoon of a reality.  He’s pretty good about that sort of thing.  But I am caught between wanting to keep it simple and living in a Brazilian community that is THRIVING on high technology.

Even the Rocinha favela has free, universal, wireless internet!!

I’m just glad I don’t have kids insisting on a Blackberry for their 7th birthday.

Our strategy has been to spend as much time at the beach or in mountain getaways as possible.  When planning a trip, the destination gets extra points if it does not have cell phone service.  We are reluctant participants in the digital revolution here in Brazil.

It’s a good thing we are not at the lead edge of our careers.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Book review: World Without End

Few books make me pine for a Kindle or other e-reader.  I like the feel of a book in my hand and, frankly, the smell of print on the page.  But at 1,113 pages my hardcover edition of Ken Follett’s World Without End made my wrists tired just trying to hold it up.

World Without End is the sequel to Follett’s best selling The Pillars of the Earth.

It’s an easy read. I enjoyed revisiting the town of Kingsbridge (two hundred years later) and following the adventures of the descendents of the original characters.

Here are a couple paragraphs from a review originally published in The Sydney Morning Herald.

In 1327, in a forest outside the cathedral city of Kingsbridge, two men are killed and a potentially devastating letter is hidden. Its contents would turn England upside down.

In World Without End, Ken Follett makes us wait for more than 1000 pages before the letter's secret is confided. This is historical fiction-making in the grand manner, although the novel is composed in an essentially conventional mode. Follett's book begins two centuries after The Pillars of the Earth (in which the building of the cathedral was related). Since this chronicle of the later Middle Ages encompasses the most terrible European century before the 20th - with strife, dearth, pestilence, the Hundred Years War and the Black Death - a very large cast of characters is assembled, for their attrition rate is bound to be high.

I enjoyed it very much and recommend it.  I’ll put it on my list at the Virtual Expat Lending Library.  Let me know if you would like to read it.  

I’m looking forward to reading a thinner, lighter title in the weeks to come.